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George Costa, Mr. Baseball, dies

Managing Editor of the

Ceres (Calif.) Courier

George Edward Costa, the man who promoted youth baseball in Ceres for over four decades and namesake for the city's ball field complex at Smyrna Park, has died at the age of 89.

Costa passed away Sunday, Jan. 13 at Evergreen Rehabilitation Care Center in Modesto where he had been residing since suffering a stroke in 1999.

The Ceres resident shared his enthusiasm for baseball to thousands of Ceres youth, many which are now parents. Costa coached and managed teams for 62 years, approximately 44 in Ceres. He saw some of his former proteges go all the way up to the major leagues.

His home was replete with approximately 200 trophies and as many as 30 plaques. In 1984 he was indicted into the Softball Hall of Fame.

Costa was a mentor for many youth, including Red Simmons, who recalled seeing Costa teams practice as he walked home from Walter White in the 1970s. Simmons later coached with Costa.

"George taught me everything I know about baseball," said Simmons. "He taught me I was supposed to be teaching instead of drilling. I used to be pretty hard on my kids. I was out for the World Series. George told me, "It's for the kids - not yourself.'"

School board member Mike Welsh remembers Costa as a "a great man ... who changed the lives of many boys."

"It was a dream of every little boy in Ceres to play baseball for George Costa," Welsh said. "That's a fact."

Welsh, a 1969 Ceres High graduate, played as an outfielder on Costa's Ceres Giants 11-12 year old county team for two seasons in the early 1960s.

"We were always the best team on the field," Welsh said. "We rarely ever lost because he taught you how to play the game the right way."

Welsh added that Costa gave so much of himself and never asked for anything in return.

"He changed the lives of a lot of people. He was legend. People revered him. Everyone loved him."

Costa often treated Welsh and his Giants teammates to Modesto Reds minor-league baseball games at Del Webb Field, now called John Thurman Field.

"He'd load everybody in the bed of his 1960-something Chevy pickup," Welsh said. "You never needed money. He'd buy you a hot dog, hamburger and soda."

Cliff Hurt, who was affiliated with Ceres Youth Baseball for 17 years and who coached with Costa for nearly a decade in the 1980s and 1990s, said George was an integral part of Ceres Youth Baseball and a Ceres institution.

"He was CYB," Hurt said. "He started the program.

"George was the most loved man in Ceres for years," Hurt said. "People would just go down to the ballpark to talk with him."

Mr. Costa was honored in February 1992 as Ceres Citizen of the Year. At the Chamber banquet he was quoted as saying, "I'm going to die in this town. Bury me out in that ball park, please."

Mr. Costa was buried at St. Stanislaus Catholic Cemetery in Modesto Tuesday.

Born March 8, 1918, Mr. Costa spent his free time away from driving for Sunbeam Bread out on the field coaching and tending to fields. He also enjoyed football and basketball.

In the accolades given him upon receiving the Citizen of the Year award, then Congressman Gary Condit said "George Costa and the children of Ceres go hand-in-hand."

"I've had my share of a lot of fun," Costa told the audience that night.

Former county Supervisor Paul Caruso recalled the time that his daughter's team almost didn't get to play a game because the umpire didn't show. Caruso recalled that "George came by and asked what was wrong. We told him. Then he just left. Five minutes later he show up with all his gear. He worked 45 minutes until a substitute umpire showed up. He kept the game going."

He leaves behind his wife, LaVerne M. Costa of Modesto; his children, George E. Costa Jr., of Modesto, and Judith Marelen Costa of Sacramento; his brother of James Costa of Modesto; two sisters, Virginia Valim of Oregon and Barbara Hunt of Sacramento; and six grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents, Manuel and Lena Costa, and daughter Rosemary Michela.